Special Events

Joining the Club

Private clubs are wooing new members and big bookings with a special blend of special events

COUNTRY CLUBS AND business clubs want to spread the word about the benefits of membership. Four clubs told Special Events Magazine how themed events help them attract new clientele while ensuring retention of current members.

Oakhurst Country Club in Clayton, Calif., hosted an open house in April to boost membership by showing off the club's capabilities and amenities to members and nonmembers in the community, says Theresa Bragg, director of catering. Owned by Santa Monica, Calif.-based American Golf Corp., the property includes three banquet facilities, a dining room, a lounge and a golf course. More than 275 people attended the San Francisco-themed event.

As guests entered the foyer, they were transported to Napa Valley wine country, featuring wine, cheese and fruit. "We gave the decor an antiqued look - Grecian vases billowing with flowers and everything draped in gold lame," Bragg says. Other food stations included Chinatown and North Beach, the Italian section of town.

On the terrace, guests visited Fisherman's Wharf and Morgan Territory, a local section of cattle ranches spread over 10 miles of rolling hills. At Fisherman's Wharf, "we had a large boat filled with ice, shrimp, clams and oysters," Bragg says. Barbecue pits, checkered cloths and cowboy attire made up the Morgan Territory look. The dessert station, designed to resemble Ghirardelli Square, brewed lattes and espressos.

"People didn't expect that we could have something as extravagant and elegant as this," Bragg says. The reaction was overwhelming. "We now have 225 members, 75 percent of whom joined up immediately following the presentation."

Event bookings have picked up, too. One woman wants to repeat the San Francisco theme for her company and clients, Bragg says.

Oakhurst plans one themed event each month to keep members coming in. "We'll do a Caribbean theme with steel drums. We want the members to have something exciting and different to look forward to," Bragg says.

She adds that country club events are becoming family-oriented so parents can socialize while still spending time with their children. "On Super Bowl Sunday, we provided sitters on the property. Mom and Dad can watch the game without having to worry about the children."

DORIS DAYS To bolster lagging attendance at its Thursday night buffets, Brandywine Country Club of Wilmington, Del., asked executive chef Nick Oswald to develop a calendar of themed events to attract more diners.

"Doris" Day was one of the creative events Oswald dreamed up. "We have seven members named Doris who dine at the club frequently," Oswald says. "All of them are opinionated about what they like to eat. I sent them a letter asking for their favorite foods and for family recipes to work into a menu."

Thanks to that and other fun buffet concepts, Oswald says the number of Thursday diners has more than tripled, from 30 to 100. Popular themes such as lobster night often rake in a full house of 150 hungry members. "It's a prix fixe lobster dinner. We might make $10 per plate, but the important thing is to keep members coming in."

Besides the popular crab feast and Italian night, Oswald creates new menus to keep the 350 members interested. "We did a Spanish tapas buffet with a Spanish wine tasting."

Oswald says word about the buffets has spread. "Just the mere fact that we do all these buffets helps to attract buffet business when we do buffets on major holidays like Mother's Day and Labor Day. And the client is inclined to bring more of their extended family to the event." Oswald says he floods the mail with menus of upcoming events to remind members to come back. "Sometimes they don't want to take a vacation at a certain time because they don't want to miss a certain theme."

LET'S TALK BUSINESS Social affairs are attractive to family-oriented country clubs, but what's the answer for private business clubs?

Atlanta's One Ninety One Club is courting potential clientele and members through lunchtime educational seminars. "The women's programs are more popular," says catering director Tim Martin, CPCE. "There are business topics such as personal safety when traveling for business."

Martin says he markets the club to the administrative assistants of law firms and accounting firms. "We have specific programs designed for the assistants, like cocktail receptions, brunches and dessert tastings."

Though the club is only 10 years old, it's designed to mirror the Old South. "If you walk into the club, you see a lot of dark wood, leather furniture and old oil paintings," Martin says. "But behind the scenes is Internet access with data ports on the phones. We are allowing members a home away from home."

The club serves breakfast, lunch and dinner on weekdays. Weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs and debutante balls fill most weekends. "We do a lot of events where the attendees are coming from other parts of the country and want Southern-style events," Martin says. "We do a tremendous number of Scarlett and Rhett parties. People are looking for Tara, even though it never existed."

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